Church Planting and Weakness.
“If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness... ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses...For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 11:30-12-10).
I don’t know about you, but boasting, let alone hearing of the weaknesses of a church planter/church planting team does not seem to be the most logical approach when trying to plant a church. Having been around the church planting world for just a little time, it doesn’t seem that popular of a subject, or on the necessary church planting “to do list”. Quick advice is readily given for those that are in a state of weakness along with strategy, leadership, resolve, and development ideas. However, personally having been led by Christ to help plant New Springs Church, I have found great comfort in Paul’s seemingly foolish weakness declaration found here in 2 Corinthians (2 Cor. 11:1, 16-17, 12:11). This foolish boasting on Paul’s part, describing his hardships and dangers, serve to highlight his internal and external weaknesses while preaching the gospel and planting churches(2 Cor. 11:23-28).
It was two years ago when my weaknesses would begin to be magnified in the context of church planting. The years preceding were marked by an increasing confidence in Christ, a sense of calling upon my life and family. Confidence though would soon give way to uncertainty. Assurance led to the unknown, and my strength faded into great weakness; all of this while in the middle of a bi-vocational church planting residency. For those unfamiliar, a bi-vocational pastoral residency acts as a formal pastoral internship for bi-vocational adults. My bi-vocations (places called by God to work) are as 1) firefighter/chaplain for Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue and 2) working as a church planter/pastor. Little did I know what the Lord was actually laying out for my family and I when we left our longstanding church after 10 years to join this residency and begin the church planting process.
For some 14 years, I have pursued the Lord in life, vocation, and ministry. As a man, Christ has given me my greatest treasure in my wife Lisa, and our three sons come in a strong second. My newly adopted goldendoodle, yes goldendoodle, ranks third, which I think even speaks again to my weaknesses as a man.
As all of this unfolded over the last two years, I felt that every day I was being made weaker and weaker by my own “thorns in the flesh” and the Lord’s unfolding circumstances around me (2 Cor. 12:7). My marriage and family began to struggle as the Lord disciplined me in my role as a man, husband, and father. My efforts to serve another local church plant began to waiver as I couldn’t find my place of service within their mission. My discipleship efforts were marked by fatigue and frailty, as brothers, sisters, and families I was praying for began to crumble. I felt the weight of their burdens personally. I began to be advised that I quite possibly was not hearing God properly, and was even left confused as to my faith and calling. What a tough two years it really has been.
I ended up withdrawing from the pastoral residency, headed back to my home church, and began working a second job in the landscaping industry. My dream, vision, and call seemed to die right in front of me. However, Christ through it all, subtly sustained a deep personal hope, vision, and purpose within me. My faith remained, even though I felt like Peter when Christ protected him from Satan sifting him like wheat (Luke 22:31-32).
The graces of God in Christ during this time of weakness were so necessary to my life as much in service to his church and kingdom. Within the landscaping industry, I became surrounded by a large Guatemalan Christian community that surrounded me with love and encouragement. You will notice some of my brothers working for JW Landscape Designs below, and second to the right of the picture is my dear friend Israel: a fellow brother, soon to be pastor, and current student at Hobe Sound Bible College. Many fellow firefighters became inseparable brothers in Christ, with a deepening transparency and love. And in my most uncertain and weak time in life, I saw Christ save and redeem a Colombian Pizza Shop owner through a conversation and friendship. Yes, a Colombian owned Pizza shop with the best chicken parm in the city. #vitospizza. Notice my dear friend Camilo as well. I was given the blessing of attending his all Spanish wedding to wife Nicole, and now enjoy seeing their daughters and family worship side by side with me.
What began with a strong sense of calling and conviction as my local church sent me out, seemed to end with me coming back to my local church looking for healing and comfort. What began with prayers and tears for the city that I grew up in, seemed to end with prayers and tears for myself, my family, and my brothers and sisters in the faith. What began as an endeavor into bi-vocational pastoral ministry, seemed to end with landscaping and a pickup truck. And after having walked through it all, I have come to treasure the sweet grace of God amidst it all no matter the circumstance. The “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” has found its proper application in my time of lowliness (Philippians 4:13). All of it, and I mean all of my last two years in following Christ was used for his purposes and kingdom. My weakness played as much part in his work for my own life and family as it did in seeing others edified in Christ. And now today, as a venturing bi-vocational church planter, side by side with a treasured best friend from over 15 years ago, in a city where we grew up, I couldn’t have imagined what the Lord would start 2 years ago along a set path of increasing weakness.
For all this I have learned to embrace weakness, although maybe not ready to boast of it all the time, and definitely cannot fathom the extent of Paul’s journeys, dangers, perils, and pressures. I have found comfort in my current application of Paul’s foolish boasting still. For we need not be ashamed of our weaknesses, rather look and be sure of what we already know. Christ wills and intends our weaknesses to magnify his power and glory. Believe it, don’t question it, and don’t entertain bad advice. This is Paul’s boast.
If you are in a state of weakness and a follower of Christ, rest assured He has not left you and will not. Like Paul, He is using your weaknesses, dangers, unknowns, fears, persecutions, all of it, to revive and fortify a continual dependence upon him and his power. I now speak of weakness as it has been formed into my heart at the present time. What had become a tabled item in my Christian walk, has now solidified its boasting position again. When I am weak, He is strong. His working in our weakness is real power. If you can embrace your weakness, if you can boast of it, you might just feel and experience what Paul foolishly writes about: Christ’s power in you. “For my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9) If you cannot yet, I pray that you are made to as Christ did with me. It will be painful at times, but you will marvel at the power of Christ in you to his praise and glory alone. You will boast in the Lord only because He alone has the power to save and use you.
“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord. For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends” (2 Corinthians 10:18).
Jimmy and Lisa Paugh, along with their three boys Jackson, Jase, and Jude are part of the New Springs Church planting team.